Excellent Epic Biopic
- Napoleon review by PV
This is a PROPER film - epic in scope and scale. A major achievement.
It is hard to squeeze in such a huge eventful life into just over 2 hours - the Battle of The Nile when Nelson beat the French to gain control of much of Egypt is left out entirely (but is why Brits got the antiquities found by the French like the Rosetta Stone now in the British museum, though the French found it as rubble in a wall as the natives did not care about their culture before the Arab empire invaded and made them Muslim).
Still, maybe we need a film called NELSON to dramatise that. I liked the scenes in Egypt anyway. No sure of the truth of the pyramid scene (no spoilers).
Did I enjoy it as much as GLADIATOR? No. But that is personal bias. I was not interested much in military TV drama like SHARPE either.
Phoenix plays Napoleon well and the predictable moaning of historians esp the French piqued that a Brit has made this should be ignored - this is DRAMA so has to concertina events together in symbolic scenes. It is not documentary (and they are all biased anyway in one way or another).
Generally a great epic film, and the battle scenes deserve watching several times.
Many praise the true scene at Austerlitz (modernday Czech Republic) where Napoleon famously fired cannons at a frozen lake on which Russians were retreating - in real life 200-2000 died. THAT scenes is nicked wholescale from an earlier NAPOLEON film, I think the 1960 one though maybe even the late 1920s silent version.
So 4 stars overall.
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Despite great production values & good performances, this is fairly mediocre stuff
- Napoleon review by TB
Ridley Scott shows no signs of slowing down. Aged 85, he is producing/directing multiple films, sometimes 2 in a year. There is absolutely no question that he is one of our greatest living directors & one of the best filmmakers of all time. His latest offering is one that absolutely has massive scope & ambition, but sadly is not one which I was able to immerse myself in.
The film looks at the life of Napoleon, charting both his rise up to become King of France, as well as his tumultuous & difficult personal life, through the lens of his marriage to Joséphine. Napoleon's victory on the battlefield means that he is celebrated and revered by the people, carefully positioning himself within the plotting elements of the overthrowers of the French parliament. But as the years go by, his grip on power starts to weaken...
In terms of spectacle and showmanship, no-one can hold a candle to Scott's ability of constructing a film. Whether it's an action epic like Gladiator or a more "talky" film like The Counsellor, his direction is both assured and strong. However, one comment about his work that I heard a few years ago & rings most true was "Scott is only as good as the script he is working from." And in the case of Napoleon, this gets to the heart of the problem: when watching this, I never was a part of the story, I always felt like an observer looking in.
When I compare this film to The Counsellor, it is literally night and day in terms of watching experience. With Counsellor, I felt like I was in the room, right in the thick of the conversation & feeling the threats from all around baring down upon me, the tension crackling like electricity. With Napoleon on the other hand, I just felt like I was on the outside looking in, no more than a casual observer, with the occasional moment where the story gripped me.
The performances are also a mixed bag, none more so than Joaquin Phoenix's. In an on the record interview, Scott described Phoenix coming to him 2 weeks before shooting started in a panic, saying "I don't know what to do." And that is so clearly shown in his performance. Phoenix looks lost, overwhelmed & completely out of his depth. Forget Commodus from Gladiator, this is a totally different kettle of fish. However, I also feel that, because of the poor quality of the script, I don't know any actor who could actually have made the film any better.
The same cannot be said for Vanessa Kirby. She is, by a country mile, the best part of this film. She dominates the screen for every single second she is on it, grabbing our attention & really making us feel her pain. From her opening moments fleeing prison after being released, through to the pain of her inability to conceive a child & heir for her husband, she is magnificent and electric. Her performance is also one which unintentionally draws more attention to how out of his depth Phoenix is in this film.
The supporting characters are also a mixed bag. Ian McNiece makes a humourous impact as Louis XVIII, plus there is a welcome cameo from Miles Jupp as well. But there is also not much in the way of story to really allow anyone else to shine apart from the leads.
But there are some great moments, none more so than the Battle of Austerlitz, a stunningly shot & horribly brutal battle. The battle of Waterloo is also stunningly shot & brilliantly staged.
However, this sadly for me was never more than a 3 star film. Yes it's great to see Phoenix & Scott back working together, plus it is wonderful that Scott was given an enormous budget to work with. But unfortunately this doesn't mean that the end product is great, however much I wanted it to be.
Here's hoping Scott can be given another massive budget soon, alongside a decent script, to show how phenomenal a director he can be.
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